Happy Trails

Sarasota Finalizes Fares, Stops for Airport-to-Downtown Trolley

The service will launch by year’s end, with direct runs every 30 minutes between Sarasota Bradenton International Airport airport and seven hotel sites.

By Eric Garwood/Community News Collaborative November 6, 2023

New trolley-bus service to and from SRQ Airport will hopefully alleviate parking pains as passenger counts continue to rise and the airport expands.

New trolley-bus service to and from SRQ Airport will hopefully alleviate parking pains as passenger counts continue to rise and the airport expands.

Trolley-bus service between downtown Sarasota and Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) is expected to launch this holiday season, offering travelers a new way to avoid parking concerns at one of the fastest-growing travel gateways in the country.

County commissioners this week approved a fare structure for the new service, along with fares for the entire Sarasota County Area Transit network. By late January, riders can begin catching a trolley-style bus from SRQ to seven stops near downtown hotels for a $1.50 fare, which will jump up to $2 in March. Riders over 65, those on Medicare and anyone with a disability will pay half.

Commissioners approved the fare package with no discussion.

"I think this is a great idea,” Commissioner Mark Smith said at a commission meeting in April. “I just know that people will ride trolleys. Before they’ll touch a bus, they’ll ride a trolley.” 

The planned stops are: 

  • Boulevard of the Arts at the Quay Commons;
  • Ritz Carlton Drive at First Street and at Watergate Drive;
  • Second Street at Tamiami Trail;
  • Ringling Boulevard at Palm Avenue;
  • Palm Avenue at Cocoanut Avenue; and
  • Boulevard of the Arts between Tamiami Trail and Cocoanut Avenue.

Trolley service will operate about every 30 minutes between 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., which an airport study has shown is the peak period for arrivals and departures. A fixed route between downtown Bradenton and the downtown Sarasota transit center via SRQ will continue to operate from 5:40 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. five days a week.

Parking space has become trickier to find at SRQ since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic as the airport has added scores of new flights and airlines. With work underway to build five more airline gates, and more on the drawing board, the airport that borders Manatee and Sarasota counties could reach 7 million passengers a year at some point. Parking expansion plans are underway alongside the terminal expansion.

About 4.2 million passengers have passed through the facility through September, a 13 percent increase from the same time in 2023.

Simple Flying called SRQ the nation’s “most recovered” airport in the nation in terms of post-pandemic, at 195 percent of its 2019 traffic. Bozeman, Montana, was second at around 159 percent. Orlando-Sanford was among the least recovered, at about 82 percent.

In April, delivering an early presentation on the airport trolley proposal, Jane Grogg, director of Sarasota County Area Transit, said 39 percent of visitors stayed in downtown Sarasota, making the trolley to downtown worthwhile.

Beyond the trolley service, SCAT fares were adopted as follows:

Fixed route bus service: $1.50 for a one-way trip; half price for those 65 and older, those on Medicare and those with qualifying disabilities. Riders 80 and over and 5 and under ride free. Paratransit options are $3 for a one-way trip, and On Demand rides are $2 for a one-way trip; $1.50 as a reduced fare.

Eric Garwood is the executive editor of the Community News Collaborative. Reach him at [email protected]

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